Tallahassee, Florida - The Land of Oz came to the Florida Capitol Thursday as the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion followed the yellow brick road to the offices of state leaders in support of expanding Medicaid.
The Wizard of Oz characters were joined by healthcare workers from around Florida. They sang at the top of their voices outside the offices of Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, urging them to support Medicaid expansion.
An estimated one million uninsured Floridians would become eligible for health care coverage if the state chooses to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The Tin Man, Martin Hernandez-Cancio, offered this message to Gaetz and Weatherford.
"I'm here to tell our legislators with all of you today to find their hearts, to do what's right for working families in Florida and expand Medicaid now."
The Scarecrow, Jude Derisme, called Medicaid expansion a no-brainer.
"Expand Medicaid. I'm a scarecrow. I don't have a brain. But I know it is the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do."
The members of United Health Care Workers argued the plan would send billions of federal dollars to Florida, create thousands of new health care jobs, and help improve Floridians' health.
Monica Russo, executive vice president of 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers, said the expansion of Medicaid would offer health insurance to families of three with a household income up to $26,000 a year.
"Are these couch potatoes? We are here to bust that myth. The million-plus Floridians who are eligible for Medicaid expansion are hard-working folks. They get up every day and they go to work."
Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, challenged his colleagues.
"What we need to get right now up in this Legislature is political courage. Courage. Courage to do what's right. To have a heart and make sure that the people of Florida have heath care. To me, this is a no-brainer."
Gov. Rick Scott has come out in support of the Medicaid expansion but the idea faces stiff opposition from House Speaker Will Weatherford, who says the idea crosses the line of the proper role of government.
In his opening speech to the House on Tuesday, Weatherford told the poignant story of his baby brother Peter who died at the age of 13 months. His family was left with unaffordable medical bills topping $100,000. Weatherford said he believes in a safety net today because of that experience, but he doesn't think Medicaid expansion is the right safety net.
Since his speech, Weatherford has acknowledged those huge medical bills were largely paid by the Medically Needy program, which is funded by the Medicaid program.
That prompted this response from Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, at the rally of health care workers: "It's really about fairness and equity, making sure that people in this state who make $26,000 or less will have the same health care that the Speaker's family had."